Understanding the Role a Vocational Expert’s Testimony Plays in a Disability Benefits Hearing
In assessing an application for disability benefits, Social Security officials must determine the types of jobs an applicant can perform, taking into account their physical and mental impairments. To accomplish this, Social Security typically relies on the testimony of “vocational experts,” who provide estimates as to the types and quantity of jobs available in certain fields. The credibility of this expert testimony is often a key issue in many disability hearings.
Florida Magistrate Rejects Challenge to VE’s Jobs Numbers
Take this recent decision from a federal magistrate judge in Florida, Campbell v. Commissioner of Social Security. The plaintiff in this case previously worked as a police detective, until his heart disease and other impairments made him unable to continue in that position. The plaintiff subsequently applied for Social Security disability benefits.
An administrative law judge (ALJ) determined the plaintiff did not qualify for disability benefits, however, in part based on the testimony of a vocational expert (VE). The VE said that someone with the plaintiff’s medical condition could work as a “counter clerk,” “furniture rental clerk,” or “school bus monitor.” The VE further explained that all three of these jobs existed in sufficient numbers within the national economy. For example, the VE estimated there were at least 300,000 counter clerk positions jobs nationwide.
Before the magistrate, the plaintiff argued there was insufficient evidence to support the VE’s conclusions. He noted that with respect to the number of “counter clerk” positions, many of these purported jobs involved “tasks related to photo film processing,” which is a service no longer in great demand.
The magistrate found the plaintiff’s arguments unpersuasive and affirmed the ALJ’s decision to deny benefits. The magistrate said the VE was “particularly qualified” to testify given her education and resume, and in any case, the plaintiff did not actually present any evidence to contradict the VE’s findings with regard to the number of jobs available.
Indeed, the magistrate pointed to a U.S. Supreme Court decision from earlier this year, Biestek v. Berryhill, where the justices held a VE did not need to provide any underlying data in support of their testimony. Social Security could still rely on such testimony in deciding whether to grant or deny disability benefits. But there was no “categorical rule” requiring a VE to, in effect, “show their work.”
Furthermore, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees federal courts in Florida, Alabama, and Georgia, has said that an ALJ does not need to “identify a certain number of jobs,” only that there are sufficient jobs in the national economy that a disability applicant can perform.
Contact a Social Security Disability Attorney Today
It is critical in any disability hearing to carefully cross-examine any evidence presented by a vocational expert or other witnesses. Experienced SSD eligibility lawyer Stephen Barszcz can provide valuable assistance in this area. Contact his office today at 877-655-2667 to schedule a consultation.